In times past she was beautiful. A serious, naive, other worldly child, elfin bodied with eyes of a she wolf.
“She looks right into me” the adults would say.
Perhaps they were right.
Time passed and at a certain moment, when childhood was not quite past but adulthood not fully begun, soft curves started gently draping the body’s slight angular frame. Just as subtly, insidiously, the battle commenced. There was not one single moment in time where the general shouted:
“Let there be war!”
But instead a slowly seeping script of propaganda was wrought, a personal mantra running in the background of life, which proclaimed or whispered, in a language of “should””must””unworthy””shameful”. This tyrannical voice demanded change – the physical form that was evolving required controlling. Thus begun the long and bloody battle.
Inside my head there developed, running as a mental screensaver, a pervasive critique of the way I looked. “The Voice” that demanded I take charge of my body. I spent a large part of my life chiselling my strong athletic body into something leaner, more angular, shaping something that was less woman, harder, less real.
This body became and was – for the greater part of my life, the enemy. An inanimate object viewed through bank camera eyes, to be constantly monitored, weighed and measured. With hindsight it’s astonishing, as someone who tries to treat others with kindness and respect, just how excrutatingly cruel I was to myself in this quest for physical “perfection” – as if torturing myself enough would lead to a differnt form and thus a different life. I exercised obsessively but worse I tormented my body with “diets” – based on the unspoken fear that I was a madwoman, a lunatic that needed controlling, unable to make the correct choices about how, what and when to eat. More shocking still, I was not alone in this preocupation – the way that I ate and experienced food, the never ending neuroses surrounding body image, seemed to be pretty much the norm amongst my peer group.
any of a range of psychological disorders characterized by abnormal or disturbed eating habits (such as anorexia nervosa).
Were we, in our distorted relationship with food, in our obsession with “paleo””gluten” free””I quit sugar” sufferring from an eating disorder as such? I am not sure – but disordered eating certainly.
Strangely, change has come in the past few years, largely through loss – through the awareness that life is transient, the mourning of friends and family who have died and others whose lives have been limited by physical or emotional illness. Perhaps the loss of my own youth has been a catalyst too. At some point along the road the struggling, suffering, pushing and pulling seemed pointless and exhausting and treating myself with kindness became more important than anything else.
These days I feel immense grattitude to this human machine that carries with it the battle scars of six new lives sheltered within. Inumerable falls from horses and bicycles indelibly inprinted are no longer a source of shame but instead of pride. This body is truly – as all bodies are – a miracle. It has carried me unfailing through countless city’s dusty streets, up mountains, pounded inumerable miles of rough terrain. It has survived my neglect and torment – fuelled irregularly and harshly – fed coffee and sugar to keep my mind high and semi starved when self loathing required that I disappear into a gaunt bony frame. It spoke – a quiet voice barely a whisper above the minds raucous wailings and in those days I failed to listen.
It spoke – I now know, of kindness, of a wish to be treated gently and to be heard.
Now I listen to its whisperings and I marvel at its wisdom, its ability to keep the untamed and wild mind at bay and form firmly rooted into the stable earth. With age has come tolerance and compassion.This body is a gift I now see and one which in the meaness of my youth I failed to recognise and thus set about changing, forever discontent, controlling and regulating in a way that I would never dream of imposing on another human.
Kindness has brought eating without rules, taking time to recognise and experience physical pleasures: the joys of movement; sensation; feeling the strength and the elements against skin. It means resting when tiredness sets in and silencing the ever chattering mind when it “The Voice” begins it’s mutterings.
The last words from poet Galway Kinnell “Sometimes it is neccessary to reteach a thing its loveliness”. Absolutely.